January 26, 2022

Beyond Borders: How Colombian students and educators experienced transformation through professional learning

As an educator, I have always felt powerful opportunities present themselves all the time, you just have to have your eyes open to see when they are coming and to understand that they are in fact opportunities. This was definitely the case when members of the TGR Foundation programs team learned about an opportunity to partner with the D.K. Kim Foundation to grow an education initiative based in Colombia. At this moment, I was not very familiar with Colombia and was eager to learn more and see if it might be a fit for our professional learning work.

As we met with Kim Integrated Health Management Initiative and the D.K. Kim Foundation, respectively, it became clear they had a similar mission as TGR Foundation – to support communities in closing the opportunity gap. This first meeting was full of great ideas and lofty goals, but it wasn’t until I met some of the Colombian teachers, we could work with that it is was clear we needed to work with them!

The first Colombian educators I had the pleasure of meeting were Minerva, Irina and Lilo, a mother and her two daughters. Their commitment, passion and love for young people was so apparent. The opportunity was palpable. From these early meetings, and with funding from the D.K. Kim Foundation, we decided to establish a cohort of 10 educators that would attend Virtual STEM Studio 1, Virtual STEM Studio 2 and take the training to become Master Trainers. This early cohort would become proficient in inquiry to bring to their own classrooms, but also develop trainings to bring to other educators in Colombia in a culturally appropriate manner.

We started VSS1 in January 2021 and met monthly from February until August 2021. These Colombian educators learned basic ideas about inquiry and how to bring it into their classroom, as well as thinking strategies that can make it clear how a student’s mindset is changing as they learn. This group took a huge amount of initiative and incorporated a lot of what we learned into their teaching. It was apparent from the teaching portfolios they shared in October that not only were they changing their practice as educators, to be more engaging and uplifting but that students were responding positively to these new strategies.

The stories abounded, from one young man that translated verbs from Spanish to English while grocery shopping with his mom to a student who used a thinking routine shared with the cohort, to describe how he would redesign a video game console.

The examples were numerous, and teachers also reported a 10-30% increase in the number of students submitting homework for these inquiry lessons during a global pandemic with remote teaching.

As we rounded the corner into November, this cohort of Colombian educators was feeling good about inquiry and how they would continue to bring this into their teaching practice. They were about to face a new challenge, however. Learning how to facilitate inquiry professional learning for educators in Colombia, the beginning of the Master Trainer series. This was indeed a challenge as they had to change their mindset once again from educator to trainer and develop a workshop they would present to teachers in Spanish. The Master Trainer workshop series was a lot of work as educators toiled tirelessly on developing new workshops, practicing for their presentations, receiving feedback, and making the necessary changes. While I could see the hard work they were putting in, I could also see the pride. They were the ones doing this hard work to improve learning for their students and for other educators in Colombia.

While for the training these educators would conduct in Colombia, I received the great news, I was going to get to attend this training in Colombia to give feedback and coach the trainers through their sessions. I was very excited to travel to Colombia and meet in person this excellent group that I had been working with for nearly a year but had only ever seen over zoom. The plans were made, the bags were packed and off I went!

The trip to Colombia was incredibly memorable as I got to meet amazing people, have great conversations about the education possibilities in Algarrobo and see the Colombian educator cohort in action as they conducted two separate trainings in two different communities. I was so proud of the work we had all accomplished together and amazed at how quickly the cohort had picked up the lessons they learned through their inquiry training and their Master Trainer workshops.

The best part, the educators in Algarrobo loved the training and are eager to set up more trainings for the teachers in an ongoing manner. We planned to share a year of inquiry training and coaching with a cohort of Colombian educators to prepare them to bring what they learned to their own classrooms and to colleagues in their community, but the reality was so much better than the outcomes we had imagined. The trip to Colombia ended on a perfect note – awarding the Master Trainer certificates to the Colombian cohort and seeing how proud they were of their amazing accomplishments.

I often find myself thinking back to the 6 a.m. car ride down a small bumpy road in rural Colombia wondering how I got to take part in this exciting adventure and how passionately and quickly the Colombian cohort took to the inquiry mindset. As I reflect on it now, though, it makes perfect sense. These are people seeking to improve education in their community and country, of course, they will be the change that they are willing to bring about. As we equip communities with tools for change and then empower them to enact that change in the ways it makes sense to them, the work stops becoming training or development and starts becoming sustained, transferrable change.